Hard Bytes

DQI Bureau
New Update

In the field programmable gate-array (FPGA) market marathon, very few

sprinters reach the finishing line. And if quick time to market and the fast

enough responses to market changes are key programmable logic values, system-on-a-programmable-chip

(SOPC) solution provider Altera will claim a place

ahead of archrival Xilinx.


SOPCs comprise an embedded processor connected to a number of peripherals

through an on-chip bus. All of the components-including the processor,

peripherals, and the bus-are realized on a single FPGA chip.

Altera says its distinguishing factor is the fact that it offers HardCopy, a

structural ASIC, something that becomes 'most compelling' because of its

product development flexibility and time-to-market benefits. The company claims

it has a unique FPGA front-end design flow for using Altera's Stratix series

of high-density, high-performance FPGAs to develop, verify, and finalize system

design before committing them to silicon.

At the company's annual show-SOPC World-held in Bangalore on November

3, 2005, Danny Biran, VP, Product and Corporate Marketing explained the nuances:

"If you look from the perspective of customers, they always like to use

FPGAs for prototyping. But they would typically switch to an ASIC if they wanted

to go for high volume. Now that we offer HardCopy, and as part of that we offer

seamless and risk-free migration from Stratix FPGA to HardCopy, we can stay with

the design for a much longer time."


Expecting more innovation in the development process, and in development

tools that support the process, are obvious outcomes, Biran says.

What Makes It Hot

As FPGAs became bigger and more complex, compilation of the design started

to become a bottleneck. The new Quartus version is the first in the industry to

introduce a capability called incremental compilation, to help designers segment

designs into physical and logical partitions for synthesis and fitting.

"That saves a lot of time," says the spokesperson. When he spoke to

customers about transceivers, they talked about signal integrity and power

consumption issues. "The two main benefits of Stratix II GX are that it has

superior signal integrity and very low power consumption. Signal integrity is

all about productivity because when you design a system with high-speed

transceivers, the most challenging task is to design the board in the system

without having signal integrity issues. he adds.

Business wise, growth for Altera will come from communications and the

automotive sector. Automotive applications that typically lend themselves to

programmable logic are: infotainment, consumer applications like DVDs, displays,

and audio and video. "These systems have much faster design time and design

cycles," says Biran. Penetration of programmable logic into the consumer

segment started late for the company. But now that it has taken off, hopes of

growth are running faster than design cycles.


Harvesting Talent

Altera cultivates SOPC talents mainly in Asia, through its

university programs. Altera has already engaged about six of the top 10 colleges

it identified, investing an equivalent value of about a million dollars in the

form of software and development boards and kits. As part of this, it has also

trained the professors.

An interesting aspect of its program is the NIOS, soft-core

embedded processor design contest, where students make complex designs on the

FPGA. This year, 40 designs were submitted from India and the first award went

to G Ananth, US Karthikeyan, and Prof V Kamakoti of IIT Madras for 'Cryptographic

Algorithm using Multi-Board FPGA Architecture.'


Designs received this year covered a range of applications such

as telecommunications, wireless, consumer, security, automotive, DSP,

industrial, medical, and biometrics.

Some of the other designs submitted in the contest were:

  • Industrial process control

  • JPEG 2000 implementation

  • Biomedical signal monitoring system

  • MP3 player

  • Speech recognition system

  • Security system using IRIS

  • Spectral estimation

  • Wavelet-based image compression

  • Adaptive cruise control for automobiles

  • OFDM modulator

  • Smart home networking

The designs evaluated on factors like design complexity, functionality, and


Goutam Das in Bangalore